Identify Yourself: Punjabi Printing History and Culture in Birmingham and the Midlands

Category: Ph.D. Research


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With a turnover of £13.5 billion and employing around 122,000 people in 8,600 companies, the UK printing industry is an important economic contributor and employer and the fifth largest producer of printed products in the world. But it is not simply economics that make Britain’s printing industry significant: its products are a reflection of its changing intellectual, social, spiritual, and commercial life, documented and preserved through the production of both general and specialist print.

By and large, printing historians have simply considered the development of the British printing industry through the work of its indigenous printers, however the post-war influx of South Asian migrants led to the creation of a significant parallel industry of ethnic printers serving Britain’s Asian communities, the importance of which has been ignored. This project considers Britain’s South Asian printers from the dual perspectives of both printing history and print culture in order to understand not only the production and distribution of printed material but also its design, consumption and impact: it is not only concerned with how the material was produced, but also what it looked like, and its impact on the community. Those pioneering South Asian printers who established printing businesses in post-war Britain, laid the foundations for what became a flourishing, specialist industry that existed alongside, but often separate from, its British counterpart.

This research investigates: 1) the nature and anatomy of the post-war British South Asian printing industry: its establishment, organisation and development; modis operandi; and the networks that enabled and sustained it; 2) how, in order to ease settlement, preserve culture and make a new social, communal and economic identity for themselves, South Asian immigrants evolved distinctive methods of communicating through the printed word and developed an original graphic ‘voice’; 3) a study of British South Asian printers and their printed outputs help will help address wider issues relating to how ethnic communities established their own identities, assimilated themselves into a host culture, and whether print served to integrate of segregate.

In order to start to understand the practices and networks of the British South Indian printing industry this research will draw on the Virk Collection of (South) Indian Life in Britain (held in the Coventry History Centre), a rare and extensive archive of untapped papers and printed ephemera collated by Mr Virk, a printer for the Indian Workers’ Association. These papers will provide a window into the practices and networks of Indian printers, including: identification of leading printers; processes and suppliers; products and clients; the problems faced in the creation of multilingual documents; and the convergence of Asian and Western design. In particular, this archive provides a rich source of material relating to British South Indian printers engagement in contentious politics.


Members involved in this research

Sahar Afshar


Ph.D. Research Projects